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Royal Navy seizes nearly £300m of drugs in the Caribbean Sea

4 March 2024
A Royal Navy warship seized £290.66m of cocaine and narcotics in two huge blows to drug runners in the Caribbean.

British sailors, Royal Marines and a US Coast Guard team on HMS Trent intercepted a suspected smuggling speedboat south of the US Virgin Islands.

The smugglers began jettisoning their illegal cargo as they fled towards land, but Trent, her fast sea boats and an American patrol aircraft gave chase – eventually recovering 94 bales of class-a narcotics, weighing 2,757kg and worth £220.56m.

This was HMS Trent’s second drugs bust in the space of three weeks, having seized £70.1m of cocaine in a separate operation in January – pouncing as darkness fell as smugglers tried to escape.

A high-octane chase ensued under moonlight as the smugglers tried to offload their illegal cargo, but Royal Marines coxswains and the USCG boarding team closed in, took control of the vessel and detained four crew members.

As the sun rose, Trent’s 60-strong crew scoured the ocean for the abandoned cargo, eventually retrieving 29 bales of cocaine weighing in at 876kg after an extensive ten-hour search across 24 square miles.

A marine, of Plymouth-based 47 Commando, who cannot be named for operational reasons, was driving one of the pursuing sea boats.

“This was a challenging operation and required us to push the boats to their limit,” he said. 

“Despite their best efforts to evade us, and with our boats and the ship bearing down on them at speed, the 38ft go-fast finally gave up the chase and we were able to get alongside and enable members of the US Coast Guard to seize the vessel.”

A US Maritime Patrol Aircraft circled overhead assisting the operation as Trent closed in after acting on intelligence reports from the United States’ Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATFS) based in Key West, Florida.

The officer in charge of the USCG team, who cannot be named for operational reasons, said: “The size of this bust is rarely seen in the region, and it is one of the largest single seizures in recent memory. 

“Being able to recover such a large cargo of contraband over a 24-mile search area is unheard of and speaks to the level of skill the crew of HMS Trent has demonstrated.”

Commanding Officer, Commander Tim Langford, added: “The achievements of this ship and her crew in the last nine months have been spectacular, and it is brilliant to see the hard work and dedication of this amazing team paying off. 

“Having already achieved a hugely successful deployment to Africa in the second half of last year, I am delighted that our shift to Atlantic Patrol (North) tasking has been heralded by such a significant seizure of narcotics. 

“The team is rightly proud of their efforts, and those of our USCG colleagues.”

Trent then more than tripled her total seized with the second bust - again in a coordinated operation with the USCG and a US Maritime Patrol Aircraft.

The ship’s sea boats – crewed by sailors, USCG personnel and Royal Marines – worked with the aircraft to pursue the speedboat, staying hot on its heels during a high-speed nighttime chase.

The traffickers dumped 20 bales of the narcotics – later recovered by HMS Trent – before they ran aground and were detained by authorities on the US Virgin Islands, where a further 74 bales were seized.

In all, the 94 bales of narcotics weighed in at 2,757kg and worth £220.56m.

HMS Trent’s Executive Officer Lieutenant Commander Mike Rydiard, who was in temporary command for the second drugs bust, said: “I am immensely proud of the combined team of Trent Ship’s company, UCSG team and 47 Commando Royal Marines who carried out the intercept and pursuit straight from generation in challenging conditions to get the right result.”

A Seaman Specialist who was the bowman in one of Trent’s boats for the pursuit added: “The chase was pretty exhilarating, and it was great to once again showcase our skills and take part in a successful operation.”

Fellow Royal Navy River-class Batch 2 HMS Medway usually patrols the Caribbean but has been in the South Atlantic – operating around the Falkland Islands – while sister ship HMS Forth underwent maintenance. 

With Forth back in her regular stomping ground, it freed Medway up to get some much-needed maintenance, paving the way for Trent to head to the Caribbean. 

Trent usually operates off the coast of West Africa and in the Mediterranean, but her Caribbean deployment means in the last nine months she has worked across four continents and visited 14 countries along the way.

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